Saturday, April 16, 2011

Further Comments on Matt. 23:37-39 (57)

Dear Forum members,

In the last installment I began a discussion of Matthew 23:37, with a similar passage in Luke 13:34: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” I closed the last forum article with the comment that two questions remained unanswered: One was, who are Jerusalem’s children? And the second was, why was Jesus sad at the impending destruction of the city?

Scripture uses the expression “Jerusalem’s children” in two different ways. One way is to speak of Jerusalem’s children as including all the natural seed of Abraham. These children are said to be in bondage; that is, the bondage of the law, which no man can keep, and which leaves those who are under the law in sin. This is the meaning of Galatians 4:25 where the “Jerusalem that now is” is said to be in bondage with her children.

But Scripture also speaks of the true people of God who were Jerusalem’s children. In Zechariah 9:9 the daughters of Jerusalem are admonished to rejoice at the arrival of Jerusalem’s King. When Scripture speaks of the children of Jerusalem as being the elect only it also speaks of the “Jerusalem above” which is the mother “of us all,” whether Jew or Gentile (Gal. 4:31; see also Heb. 12:22-24). These are the children of Jerusalem that Christ desired to gather.

Christ does not desire to gather all Jerusalem’s children, but is frustrated in his desire; he does in fact gather them. He gathered them on the day of Pentecost and throughout the years following Pentecost when the gospel was proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike. The text does not convey a frustrated desire of the Lord; it emphasizes Jerusalem’s sin in doing all in its power to prevent Christ from gathering Jerusalem’s children (John 9:34-38, John 11:47-53).
The sin of trying to do all they were capable of doing to prevent Christ from gathering Jerusalem’s children is the sin that determined their destruction. This was the tradition of apostate Israel from earliest times, when they killed the prophets and stoned those whom God had sent. It was for this reason that their house is left unto them desolate.

How it is possible to get a well-meant offer out of this text requires extraordinary exegetical legerdemain. One ought to read the whole chapter. It is filled with woes upon the scribes and Pharisees who are branded as hypocrites. It is a sharp condemnation of their sins, which will ultimately bring them to hell (14). These hypocrites are said to be blind guides (16), leaders in Israel who make proselytes greater children of hell than themselves (15), who “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (13). It is impossible to find a well-meant and gracious offer in this chapter.

We must now answer the question: Why was Jesus sad at the thought of Jerusalem’s destruction?

While neither the passage in Matthew nor Luke speaks of Jesus sorrow at the impending doom of Jerusalem, the very wording of the text suggests this: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …” There is one instance where Jesus is said to have wept over Jerusalem. That instance was at the time of his triumphal entrance into the city while riding on a donkey. Luke 19:41-42 informs us that “when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.”

There were at least two reasons why Jesus was saddened by the impending doom of the Holy City. The first reason, though by no means the most important, was a sadness that the important place Jerusalem occupied in Israel’s history was going to be destroyed. It is the kind of sadness that one feels when the ancestral home, or village, or city is destroyed. Jerusalem represented the Jewish nation of which Paul speaks in Romans 9:4-5: “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” Those thoughts moved Paul to speak of a “great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart” (Rom. 9:2).
I personally have that same heaviness and sorrow when reports come of the wide-spread apostasy of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. From that country came my ancestors, and God gave that country the privilege of being the cradle of the Reformed faith, the same faith that we confess and love today. The sorrow that this has happened is real. And those who came from other countries in which once the truth of Scripture was held high, but have now departed from the faith know what that sorrow is like.

Our Lord was like us in all things, except for our sin. He too knew sorrow. One might say that the Lord should not have been sorrowful, because he, as God, had foreordained such apostasy; but that is not the point. As a man who possessed with us all human emotions, Jesus experienced sorrow. A forceful illustration of this is found in the gospel according to John, chapter 11. Jesus came to Bethany to raise Lazarus who had died. He knew that he had come to perform the miracle of raising Lazarus, but that knowledge did not prevent the Lord from weeping at the grave (John 11:35). Jesus knew the sorrow that comes to us all when God takes from us one we love.

It is not, therefore, strange that our Lord, remembering the past glory of Jerusalem wept over the city, even though he knew that Jerusalem’s apostasy and coming destruction were according to the purpose and plan of God.

But more is implied in Jesus’ sorrow. Jerusalem was dreadfully wicked. It had been wicked almost all the days of its existence. It had forsaken God’s law, worshipped idols, committed sins worse than the heathen, and repeatedly persecuted those who came to warn Jerusalem of its sins. The sins of Jerusalem saddened Christ. They did not sadden him, because he was disappointed. He was not so sad because he had wanted Jerusalem to be saved, and had even given them grace to do what was right and pleasing in God’s sight. Sin saddened our Lord. Jerusalem’s sin saddened him; our sins sadden him as well.

The opposite is unthinkable! Is God delighted when men sin against him? blaspheme his name? make idols to worship instead of worshipping him? The very thought is blasphemous. Even the Psalmist expressed such grief at the sin of those whom he knew. “I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word” (Ps. 119:158). David sang this Psalm in which he expressed his grief at the wickedness of those around him; but he also, in this same Psalm, speaks of God’s sure judgments upon the wicked, and other of his Psalms express his fervent desire that God will bring judgment on all the workers of iniquity. His sorrow for sin was not incompatible with his desire that sin be punished.

As I have emphasized before, God is not, by his unchangeable counsel, the author of sin. Sin does not come because he ordained that it should. He is not responsible for the sins of men. Man sins willfully and willingly. He chooses sin and delights in sin. This remains true even though God sovereignly determines all sin. Though it was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God that Christ be crucified, and although the Lord determined crucifixion as the absolutely necessary way for the elect church to be saved, the Jews, Pilate and Herod committed this one crime of the ages because of their wickedness (Acts 2:23, Acts 4:26-28).

God created man good and able in all things to do the will of God. The sin of Adam and Eve (and our sin in Adam) was, though according to God’s eternal purpose, man’s dastardly act of rebellion. God’s sadness is evident in his will that men fulfill the purpose for which he has been created.

Men protest against this truth that God is sovereign while man remains responsible for his sins. They even claim that this is logically inconsistent and cannot both be true. The sad part of it all is that in the interests of maintaining man’s accountability for his sins, the truth of God’s sovereignty lies like a wounded and bleeding reality on the pages of human theology. Man would prefer to sacrifice the truth of God in the interests of maintaining a twisted view of man’s accountability.

That we cannot understand fully the ways of God is not surprising: we do not understand any of God’s works, not even the simplest works of which we are witnesses a hundred times a day. God is infinite in knowledge and his ways are past finding out. We are bound to Scripture, for there God tells us of what he does. Scripture speaks of both God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability on every page without finding any problem. Rather than desecrate the holy name of God, let us bow in wonder and adoration, confessing our sins and our inability to know God’s marvelous works as he performs them in time.

In Christ’s service,


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